Why Dog Pee Kills Grass (And How to Stop It)

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shaggy dog lifting one back leg to urine on grass

Yes, your precious pup’s pee can kill your grass — if you let it. But if you understand why dog pee kills grass, you can figure out ways to prevent damage or repair what’s already been done. 

And no, the answer isn’t keeping your poor dog pent up inside. You and your dog can both get the most out of your beautiful lawn (for different reasons, hopefully) if you know the cause of urine spots and follow simple measures to fix them. 

Why dog pee kills grass

Your dog’s urine contains urea, a form of nitrogen that results from digesting proteins. Dogs have a lot of protein in their diet, so they have a lot of nitrogen in their urine. This high nitrogen content is completely normal and nothing to worry about as far as your dog’s health goes.

But it’s a different story when it comes to your lawn’s health. A little nitrogen fertilizes lawns, but a large amount of nitrogen concentrated in a small area (like when your dog pees in the same spot over and over) burns the grass, killing it. 

Some dog owners think the acidity of dog urine is what burns grass, but that’s a myth. Nitrogen kills the grass, and acidity has nothing to do with it.

Does diet affect dog urine damage?

Your dog’s diet can cause their pee to have more or less nitrogen. Processed proteins create more urea and higher nitrogen content than fresh proteins. That means a dog on a diet of processed proteins is more likely to cause lawn damage. 

Most dry and wet dog foods on the shelf are highly processed. For a truly fresh doggy diet, you can make your own dog food at home. Many pet parents find homemade food more economical than buying dog food at the grocery store, anyway. 

Alternatively, there are some “fresh” dog food brands you can try, including:

  • The Farmer’s Dog
  • Nom Nom
  • Ollie
  • Spot & Tango

Note: Don’t alter your dog’s diet or add dietary supplements without consulting a veterinarian first. 

Does water intake affect dog urine damage?

Yes, how much water your dog drinks affects the concentration of nitrogen in their urine. The more water they drink, the more diluted the nitrogen will be when they urinate. Encourage your pup to drink more water to help prevent lawn spots. 

Plus, more water is excellent for your dog’s health! Hydration is always a good thing. You can encourage your dog to drink more water by adding more water bowls around the house, purchasing a doggy drinking fountain, or adding some water to their wet food.

Does gender affect dog urine damage?

There’s a common misconception that female dogs hurt lawns more than male dogs, but it isn’t necessarily true. Male and female dogs’ urine has the same chemical makeup, and neither is more harmful to lawns than the other. 

Female dogs damage lawns more often because they squat to relieve themselves all in one spot, whereas males usually pee in small amounts around the lawn. When a dog releases all that urine in the same spot, the nitrogen is highly concentrated, which causes brown grass.

Any dog that squats to pee — including puppies and elderly dogs of any gender, plus some young adult males — will cause more lawn damage. It isn’t about gender. 

Does breed affect dog urine damage?

Breed has no impact on whether or not a dog’s pee will hurt grass. You might notice one dog damages your lawn more than another, but that’s because of many different variables between each individual dog. Breed doesn’t factor into the equation at all. 

How to identify dog urine damage in grass

illustration explaining what dog urine does to grass

Damage from dog pee takes one of two forms, depending on the state of your lawn:

  • Brown spots, which mean your lawn is getting too much nitrogen
  • Dark green spots, which mean your lawn isn’t getting enough nitrogen

Seeing brown or dark green spots in your lawn? Here’s how to tell if dog urine is the cause. 

Brown spots

If your grass is yellowing or turning brown, that means it’s dying. Many things can cause yellowing or browning, from lawn fungus to grubs living in the soil. Your dead grass may not be little Fido’s fault after all. 

If the brown spots (or yellow spots, if they’re not totally dead yet) came from urine, you should see these features:

  • A ring of dark green grass (darker than the rest of your lawn) around the edge of the dead patch
  • Grass doesn’t pull up easily when you tug on it

Where does the dark green ring come from? Remember, grass turns brown because dog urine adds excess nitrogen to the soil. As the urine flows away from the spot where your dog went to the bathroom, the nitrogen becomes less and less concentrated. 

So, the area around the dead patch doesn’t get too much nitrogen to turn brown. Instead, it gets just enough to get a little boost and grow greener than before. It’s like you used fertilizer in that one spot. 

What about the grass pulling up from the soil? Grass suffering from grubs or fungus has weak roots, which means it detaches from the soil easily. But dog urine doesn’t affect root strength. If you can pull up the grass with a little tug, the dog has caused your lawn’s problem. 

Green spots

Sometimes, your dog’s favorite potty time hangouts turn dark green instead of brown. Dark green spots mean your soil was lacking in nitrogen before, and the dog’s urine provided the nutrients your grass needs to grow as healthy as possible. 

In this case, the urine spots are actually healthier than the rest of your lawn. Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the rest of the soil, and all your grass can be the same lush, dark color as the urine spots. 

Warning: Once you correct your soil and your grass has all the nitrogen it needs, your dog’s urine may burn the grass and cause brown spots. 

How to fix dog urine spots

Lawn damage isn’t the same as a torn-up sofa, so don’t get mad at Fido just yet. You can repair your lawn fairly easily, even if parts of it are dead. 

Take these steps to help your lawn look as good as new after dog urine damage:

  • Water the lawn deeply
  • Reseed the dead patches of grass (maybe with a more urine-resistant type of grass seed, such as fescue or Bermudagrass)
  • Apply lawn treatments made to cleanse the soil of nitrogen and salts from dog urine

For more information on how exactly you can follow these steps and fix your lawn, see our guide on how to repair dog pee spots in grass.

How to prevent dog urine damage in your lawn

Once you repair your lawn, you can keep those green or brown spots from ever coming back. Or if your dog hasn’t hurt the lawn yet, you can prevent it from happening in the first place. You just have to think ahead and take action before you see any damage. 

Here are some effective methods for reducing lawn damage from dog urine:

  • Thoroughly water the spot where your dog pees immediately after they’re done
  • Train your dog to urinate in a designated spot where there’s mulch or gravel instead of grass
  • Raise your mowing height so the grass is less sensitive 
  • Use Dog Rocks, a product that reduces nitrates in your dog’s water
  • Alter your dog’s diet (with guidance from a veterinarian)
  • Reseed your lawn with a more urine-resistant grass type

Want to know more about these prevention methods? See our in-depth guide to preventing dog pee damage. 

FAQ about dog pee and grass

1. Will grass grow back after dog urine damage?

Maybe and maybe not. If the affected grass is only yellowing, you may still be able to save it with extra watering before it turns brown. 

If the grass is already brown, it’s dead. That grass won’t come back to life, but new grass can replace it. You have two options for regrowth:

Reseed the spot to grow new grass 
Pull up the dead spot and allow the surrounding healthy grass to cover the area gradually through rhizome or stolon growth 

2. What is the best grass for dog urine?

Warm-season grasses typically recover from dog urine damage better than cool-season grasses. 

If you live in an area where you need to use cool-season grass, fescue is the most urine-resistant cool-season grass type

3. Do brown spots in the lawn mean my dog is sick?

Not necessarily. A healthy dog’s urine can cause brown spots just the same as a sick dog’s. 

However, if you notice a change in your dog’s bathroom habits or you suddenly start seeing spots in the lawn out of nowhere, that may indicate a health problem, especially with the kidneys. It might be a good idea to bring your pup to the vet and have them checked out. 

Man’s best friend, not lawn’s best friend

Dogs love running around in the lawn more than anyone, but the lawn might not love them back. Dog pee kills grass in some cases, leaving ugly brown patches. 

But there are plenty of measures you can take to prevent and get rid of brown spots without affecting your pup’s health and happiness. A few spots of brown grass every once in a while is a small price to pay for the tail wags you get when you say the word “outside.”

Need assistance? Regular maintenance from one of Lawn Love’s local lawn care professionals can help keep your grass healthy and free of brown patches.

Main Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures.net

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